Column: Aesthetic subcultures need to make space for people of color

Theo Edwards, Opinions Writer

Aesthetics are important in my life because of the way they can both distract from the mundane and add a cohesive and interesting theme into it. “Aesthetics” in general are the application of considering what is beautiful based on values and beliefs. 

The first aesthetic I remember delving into was dark academia, but I didn’t know the name for that style. I have always idolized the dark aesthetic of Slytherin in Harry Potter as well as the ambition that sorted members into that house.  

Another element I was interested in before knowing its relation to dark academia was an inclination towards elite schooling such as Oxford and Yale: schools that have extreme prestige and classiness to them, while upholding traditional architecture. 

Dark academia itself is a way to glamorize the pursuit of knowledge, particularly the humanities, for the pleasure of intellectual achievement for its own sake. It is like using literature and history to enhance oneself through an education of the soul, not an education just for job prospects. It also tends to make studying a bit less boring if you can have a constant reminder of greatness through learning. 

Mood boards tend to show the aesthetic with darkened libraries lit only by candles, fashion filled with neutral and muted colors, and classic literature such as Frankenstein and Shakespeare. 

Past the glamorization, the dark aspect of dark academia allows for a mystery component to be added. Knowledge is the light, but dark is associated with ignorance and keeping secrets.  

It is also the dark aspect of decadence and hedonism of not knowing when to stop indulging, and a common theme in dark academic works is the concept of losing oneself in pursuit of greatness. 

In homage to great dark academia works, my favorite is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. In it she does acknowledge the true world damage of glamorizing education in such a way that it can turn to elitism. 

There is an issue with the dark academia aesthetic due to an inaccessibility to education. Due to higher education coming with a hefty price tag when it comes to elite schooling, these schools are also predominantly filled with upper class white people. Those who are born with an advantage in life have an easier time pursuing majors in the humanities and don’t have to worry as much about job prospects. 

When knowledge is restricted to a specific social class, it furthers elitism and dehumanization of lower classes by making them out to be less qualified in life due to a lack of knowledge. 

The lack of people of color in the dark academia aesthetic is not just due to a lack of accessibility to higher education, but it is also due to the erasure of people of color’s success in academia throughout history.  

There is a current reformation to the aesthetic by people of color using book recommendations from the east that fit the aesthetic to avoid bias towards western works. Fashion of the aesthetic is being modeled by more POC and there is more music being introduced from POC that still gives that mysterious and classic feel.  

This helps by putting us back in the narrative and connecting us to the glamorization of the pursuit of knowledge. The ultimate connection to an aesthetic is when you can as close as possible imagine yourself living out that style. 

Theo Edwards can be reached  at [email protected].